BOSTON (CBS) – It has been a difficult couple of weeks for Rich Shertenlieb and his family, but on Thursday he made his return to the 98.5 The Sports Hub’s airwaves.
“It is damn good to be back. I want to kiss this microphone, if it didn’t smell like ham sandwich like every mic in this studio does,” Rich said Thursday morning. “It’s good to be back, I missed the hell out of you all and I missed the hell out of the show.”
A little over two weeks ago, Rich’s wife Mary was diagnosed with AML — a form of Leukemia. It’s been a tough battle for the Shertenlieb family, but they’ve had plenty of help from the Sports Hub family, listeners, and people all over the country. And earlier this week, they received some great news about Mary going forward.
Rich detailed the battle on Thursday morning, from the diagnosis to the good news they received earlier this week.
“A couple of weeks ago, she had been sick. I remember talking to you guys that weekend, saying ‘my wife was been sick, I’m probably going to have to watch the kids’ – I was groaning. She didn’t get any better, so we got a blood test. We went to the hospital Wednesday morning, and they said she has Leukemia, AML. Everything moved so fast, the next thing you know she’s in a room attached to a machine that is taking all the blood out of her, taking all the bad stuff out and putting it back in.”
The results were startling, especially with Mary’s white blood cell count was so high.
“You’re supposed to have somewhere between 4,000-10,000 per measurement. Mary had 240,000,” said Rich. “I didnt know how scary it was until I asked him. The first doctor told me, ‘I have to be honest, we don’t have many people with numbers this high.’ You think to yourself, how is it a week ago we were goofing off with our kids, and now she’s sitting here and they’re telling us they’ve never seen numbers this high?”
“It’s terrifying, but things happen so fast you don’t even really have a chance to think about it. It wasn’t until a little bit later, maybe it’s driving home from the hospital that it hits you; you just get knocked out,” Rich recalled.
“They had to put this big thing in her neck where for 7-8 days they just inject chemo, which is essentially poison. It just kills all the blood inside you. It’s so powerful that the hair falls off your body.”
“But she did great through all of that,” Rich said. “The great news is, and the reason I’m back today, we were waiting for the news that came in (earlier this week). She got a test of her bone marrow to find out if she needed a transplant. Essentially if she didn’t need a transplant it means the chemo was working and things are heading in the right direction. You immediately jump up to a different bracket of whether or not this can be beaten. If you need a transplant, basically they’re taking drastic measures. They’re very successful, but it means the whole process takes a lot longer; you’re in the hospital a lot longer, you’re sicker a lot longer.”
But as has been the case through this battle, it was no easy process getting the good news.
“I spent the night Sunday night so I would be there when the doctors would come in. Doctors come in every 20 minutes to put something in her or they take some sort of measurement – a million different things,” he recalled. “So the first doctor comes in and asks a bunch a question, I’m like ‘please tell us, please tell us,’ and they leave the room. Twenty minutes later, another one and it’s like ‘tell us, tell us, tell us’, and it’s like every 20 minutes you’re being tortured. So finally after the fifth or sixth doctor, I asked if there were any results on the bone marrow transplant – whether or not she’ll need it. They were like, ‘We’re supposed to get it sometime today, they keep refreshing the computer to see if it’s come in.’ I wait there until about 4:00, and nobody has any information. You’re freaking out. Finally at 4:00 I had to pick up my kids. So I left her with her sister, and I said we were going to find out tomorrow, but I told her to call me if she heard anything.”
“Around 7:00, I’m getting the kids out of the bath and also changing into something I’m going to sleep in that night. Literally I was mid-change in my boxers and the phone rings. It was Mary and the first thing out of her mouth is ‘I don’t need a transplant.’ It was almost, not to sound cheesy, the scene out of Risky Business – I’m jumping around my apartment in my underwear.”
This process was tough on everyone, even Fred Toucher, who was patiently awaiting an update on Monday and Tuesday.
“From our side … no one wants to bother you guys, but you had texted me and said you would have results (on Monday),” he said. “(Tuesday), I was like, ‘I can’t take this, I’m texting Rich.’ I was like I didn’t want to bother him. I knew things were OK, I was trying to text you some goofy stuff about radio.”
“After the show on Tuesday, I go into the room and I’m like ‘I’m texting Rich.’ Immediately it’s like ding, ding, ding, all this news and I’m running around the station blowing up doors, ‘Yeah! Rich is coming back!’ It was amazing emotion.”
So now, Mary’s road to recovery is looking a lot better.
“At this point it means everything is working,” said Rich. “Best case scenario, we’re getting another test result, which is big, this weekend that will let us know if this chemo has gotten all of the bad blood cells from her bone marrow. If it has, she goes on this preventative type of chemotherapy that isn’t nearly as strong as the ass-kicker she’s gone through. It’s about three weeks of that and then she can go home, but she has to continually visit the doctor,” he explained. “If there is still some bad blood cells in her bone marrow she has to go through the car wash once again. Apparently it’s not as bad as before, it’s not as long. It’s not an eight-day thing, its five to six, but it’s still the bad stuff. But then hopefully it’s gone, and she’ll go through the preventative maintenance.”
The good news, along with all the kind words from people all over the country, have helped the Shertenliebs through it all.
“She has been amazing, and I’ll say it 1,000 times today – all the emails and texts, I see every single one of them,” Rich said. “When Mary is feeling a little down, the one way to get her to smile – because attitude is everything – is to read her some of the texts and some of the things she was getting.”
“It really means everything. I’ve gotten people who wrote three pages about how they beat this stuff, and you feel like they deserve more than just a, ‘Hey thanks for the email.’ There are so many we can’t get back to, but just know we’re reading every single one and I thank every one of you guys. It’s really helping Mary and it definitely helped me through all of this.”